Monkey House Theater, Berkeley, CA


Iconic San Francisco. A hill, some bay windows, the bus wires, and the fog half-obscuring Sutro Tower.

I spent the morning, and a good part of the afternoon, paying penance for having stayed up til 2:30 after flying directly from the East Coast (and having a Scotch nightcap, to boot). Lunch was at Atlas Cafe in the Mission, a big green salad and about 3 pints of tea, which helped in making me feel human again.

The Mission is gentrifying ever more rapidly. A big contributor is the private buses that shuttle employees of massive tech firms like Google and Facebook from the City to their South Bay campuses, and back again at night. Whereas before, tech workers would live in the vicinity of Silicon Valley for convenience, they are now free to spend their substantial salaries on rent in the hip neighborhood of their choice. So restaurants, bars and artisanal froyo stands pop up to meet their hipster-with-a-wallet tastes, apartment rents increase, and longtime residents gradually are forced out in spite of rent control (there are many ways around it, particularly the ever-popular condo conversion method). My friend’s cushy place is way at the edge of the Mission proper, around 30th, and up until now it hasn’t seen much evidence of the change, relatively speaking. But it was very obvious this time. I’m sad to see it, I’m afraid that in 10 years there will be little evidence of the area’s rich Latino history.

“Bad Neighbors”. The accused is an upscale, brand-new restaurant that doesn’t entirely seem to fit in on this block.

I hopped on the BART at 16th Street, still musing on the shifts I’d seen, and headed over to Oakland to meet with another friend, in Rockridge (a long-gentrified neighborhood). I arrived early and decided to take advantage of the Trader Joe’s to stock up on train food – nuts, raisins, protein bars, water. The meals on Amtrak are actually quite good, and not expensive (considering the extremely captive clientele, you’d think they’d gouge away), but I’m often boarding at strange late-night times when the cafe is already closed so it’s good to be prepared.

I had a nice, though short, visit catching up with my old friend, then she had to get back to work. One of the real downsides of touring the way that I do is that I never have long in one place. Having realized that two weeks is the maximum tour length that really works for me traveling on my own, I need to cover a lot of ground and take few days off (the current tour is 10 dates in 13 days, though I’d have preferred 11 or 12). And since I obviously hit most towns on weekdays, and usually have a gig each night, it’s not easy to find time for people to hang out with me. It’s a heartbreaker, but I try to make do and appreciate the little bit of time that often is all I have to share with my good people.

Then it was on to the Monkey House Theater. It’s a brand-new place, just open a few months now, but is pretty amazing. An unassuming storefront on University Avenue opens up into a wonderfully appointed little performance area. There’s a nice little stage, a good PA, a spacious and convenient place for merch, and overall a really clean and comfortable feel. Owner Ira Marlowe is a performer himself, really quite an excellent songwriter, and he told me later in the evening that he decided to open the kind of place that he himself would like to play in, a dream space . He nailed it, as I can’t think of much that could be improved.

This shot by Ziva Hadar. The Monkey House stage.

Ziva and I had a nice little crowd there, and Ira started off the night with one of his tunes before I went onstage. Everything really felt right, that first set (and I remembered to slip my wedding ring off and clip it onto the antique watch fob I brought with me just for this purpose). After five tunes or so, Ziva relieved me and put on a nice set of her guitar tunes, then Ira did another song and I went back up again. Things again started well, but halfway through I started having problems with tuning. In fact, all three of us were having tuning issues all night. Some kind of weird humidity? At any rate, I spent what felt like a small eternity trying to get the six strings sounding right, but never quite got there. I played “Shenandoah” to close, very conservatively, sticking with things that sounded good, and kinda crawled offstage. 

I spent most of Ziva’s second set struggling to convince myself that I had done a good job, at least up til that last tune, but everyone was so nice afterward that I soon felt much better. Some late-night Thai back in the Inner Richmond completed the job, and I finished the day feeling pretty good about the tour thus far.